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UFC Belfast’s Zak Cummings: ‘Give us little guys a chance’

With superstar-filled UFC 205 done and dusted, Zak Cummings hopes to convince MMA fans that this weekend’s UFC offerings are also worth their attention.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Dalby vs Cummings Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Welterweight Zak Cummings (19-5) takes on Alexander Yakovlev (23-7-1) this weekend at UFC Fight Night: Mousasi vs. Hall 2 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Missouri native last fought in August, losing a tough decision to Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC Fight Night 92 in Salt Lake City.

Cummings described Yakovlev just as he described himself, “Very well rounded.”

“He’s got good striking, wrestling, and very good jiu-jitsu defense on the ground,” continued Cummings, who then remarked that Yakovlev’s ability to go the distance with Demian Maia without being tapped was proof enough that Yakovlev had outstanding submission defensive.

However, Cummings does question whether Yakovlev can do much more than defend.

“I know obviously outside the UFC he was able to finish fights,” said Cummings. “But with a lot of his fights with the better guys, I feel like he does a good job of fighting not to lose and not to get finished, but he really doesn’t go on the offense very much.”

Despite Yakovlev’s display versus the sport’s premier jiu-jitsu threat, Cummings - who is now a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt - hopes he’s able to trouble Yakovlev on the ground come Saturday night.

This will be the second fight for Cummings since receiving his black belt. He called the promotion, “one of the greatest accomplishments” of his life. It took him eleven years to earn the belt, which was awarded to him by three-time BJJ world champion Leonardo Peçanha (of Nova União).

He does not anticipate his new status making much difference to his current MMA game, though he joked that it may prevent him from “flying under the radar” and surprising opponents who wish to grapple with him.

Today with 60 people on the mat my close friend, teammate and business partner James Krause and myself were promoted to...

Posted by Zak Cummings MMA on Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cummings is confident he has a grappling edge over Yakovlev. He also believes he has a striking edge over the Russian sambo master.

Cummings stated that his striking may be the most improved element of his game since his loss to Ponzinibbio in the fall. “I hit hard, I’ve got power in both hands, but being able to be more technical to set them up, that’s coming along more and more everyday.”

The 32-year-old has been developing this skillset with Factory X Muay Thai in Denver, under Marc Montoya.

“I feel like I’m gonna get a lot more dangerous,” said Cummings. “It’s one thing having power, another thing being able to use it. That opens up a whole other ballgame, I think that’s where I’m getting at right now.”

Montoya has also been instrumental in tweaking the way Cummings prepares for a specific opponent, in this case - Yakovlev.

“I’ve always kinda been that guy that’s been like, ‘Ok, he’s a ground guy, maybe I’ll use my wrestling, keep it standing,’ or, ‘He’s a stand up guy, maybe I’ll be focused more on trying to take him down’, but that was about as detailed as I got, I feel like that exposed me a little bit last fight.”

Cummings believes that Ponzinibbio was “very very prepared” for Cummings’ skillset, and as a result was able to nullify Cummings’ usual plan of attack (especially his takedowns).

Since that fight Cummings has been more open to watching film on an opponent. Although, it was Montoya who did most the studying of Yakovlev in preparation for this fight. Cummings believes this gave him the best of both worlds - in that he could train specifically for Yakovlev, but without feeling like he himself was obsessing over his opponent’s abilities.

Another change for Cummings heading into this weekend is an increased mindfulness when it comes to the men and women armed with the scorecards at cageside.

“I’m still learning the game of the judges,” said Cummings; who thinks his fight with Ponzinibbio was perhaps closer than he was given credit for. “I felt like I gave up volume to land power and I know I hurt him. I was landing some solid shots, but I let him land two, three, or four shots in a row, which looks bad to the judges.”

All that being said Cummings still saluted Ponzinibbio for putting on a smart fight and he accepted that the Argentinian did enough to win. The loss was Cummings second defeat in six UFC contests. His other loss was to Gunnar Nelson, in Dublin. After that fight he went on a two-fight-win streak.

“I feel like when I come off a loss, I have a little more of a chip on my shoulder,” revealed Cummings. “Because I’ve got something to prove. I’ve got to prove something a little bit more to myself, I’ve got to prove it to the sport, to the fans. Before that loss I was really close to breaking in to the Top 15. I came off a really close decision loss, so now I need to dig down and have a great performance in Belfast, so I’m right back in that mix.”

Along with Dublin, and his scheduled fight in Belfast, Cummings also traveled to Zagreb, Croatia on UFC duty. Though some fighters may complain of the extra mileage (and associated costs) Cummings can’t say enough good things about fighting internationally.

“I love it,” enthused Cummings. “I love going overseas, I love broadening my fanbase.”

Cummings especially enjoyed his trip to Dublin; mostly because of the crowd, which he called ‘insane’ and the ‘loudest around.’

“Plus it’s really cool to go out, meet all these new people, see a different culture, different part of the world,” added Cummings, who usually spends around a week vacationing after the fight. “Truly, it’s a really cool situation for me, to be able to travel, to go fight, and then travel a bit more after that and see a new part of the world.”

Before he can go sightseeing though (which on this trip includes a jaunt to Scotland), Cummings has business to attend to and he hopes that fans will tune in to watch him work, even if the event has not received the same amount of promotion as recent UFC shows.

“I’m in the sport to finish fights. I hate going to the judges. I know how tough Yakovlev is, he hasn’t been finished since 2009 and that’s my goal. This is one of those cards where there’s not a tonne of big names on it, but man there’s some really exciting fighters on there and a lot of the time these cards end up being just a barn-burner. Everybody’s fighting to finish and trying to make a name for themselves. So don’t write this card off just because there’s not the massive names or the champions, or the high ranked guys, give us little guys a chance to prove our worth.”

You can give Cummings, Yakovlev, and more that chance by tuning into UFC Fight Pass for UFC Fight Night: Mousasi vs. Hall 2 beginning at 12:15pm EST on November 19th.